How to Pick the Best Partners for Your Website Redesign
Now that you’ve decided that you need a new website, figured out your audiences, and garnered support from your leadership and staff, you should be ready to select a team of professionals to help you with the website overhaul process. There are very few organizations who can completely handle a web redesign in-house, so it’s important to have great partners who can help you through this project.
At Americans for the Arts, our Marketing, Communications and Technology Department includes a Vice President, a 5-person Marketing and Communications team, a 3-person Web team, and a 5-person Database and internal IT team. Though our entire 70-person staff played part in this project (as we detail later in this blog salon!), our Web team and VP were primary, working with our external vendors and with a good deal of content help from Marketing and Communications.
Depending on your internal staff structure, you’ll need to find some or all of the following external vendors:
Project manager(s) – This person will help keep your project on track, will be the primary project contact/liaison, and will communicate project progress to the larger group of stakeholders. It is extremely helpful to have a staff member from your organization in this role (if you don’t already have a dedicated web team) – select someone who has an aptitude and an interest in web projects, and the time to take on the additional day-to-day tasks.
This project will be a full-time job for this person for a large amount of time, so delegate this task to someone on staff who can focus on it appropriately. Each vendor you partner with will likely also designate an additional project manager (or point of contact) on their team.
Designer (or team of designers) – Even if you have a graphic designer on staff, you may decide to collaborate with an external design vendor who has web design experience. Though the basic principles of design certainly translate across mediums, there are aspects and limitations of designing for a browser that are crucial to know to be able to design for the web.
To find a great web designer, you should start by asking around - get recommendations from friends and colleagues. (If you see a website you love, ask its owner who designed it!) Though you likely won’t find an exact replica of the website you want, look for key characteristics in the look and feel of different sites – is it corporate, trendy, modern, simple? Start compiling a list of inspiration websites (or pieces of sites) that you like, as well as a separate list of about four to six solid design candidates whose work you think would translate well to the site you want to create. At that point, you can start the design process (which we’ll be talking about this in more detail later in this blog salon!).
Developer (or team of developers) – Even if you have a web team on staff, you may decide to partner with a web development firm that has the ability to tap into a broader set of resources – a team of targeted developers, each of whom is an expert in their specific area of work, that tackles similar projects regularly and can focus on your project exclusively for a set amount of time.
If they focus on building the structure of your website, your in-house web person (or team) can focus on managing the entire project, managing deliverables from staff, and doing the nitty-gritty coding and content input work that would be expensive and confusing to shop out to a vendor.
The main thing to look for in a website development firm is experience – what kinds of websites have they worked on previously? Do those sites have similar functionality to what you want to build into your website? What Content Management System (CMS) do they prefer to use, and why? If your organization has a database or CRM/AMS (Customer Relationship Management/Association Management System) that you want to tie into your website, does the development team have experience with that type of integration? Are they able to provide a maintenance contract or hosting services, if needed? (Not sure what these words mean? Later in this blog salon, we will talk about how to learn this lingo on the fly!)
It is helpful (though not necessary) for developers to be local, and it is important to get references from their previous clients. In a previous blog post, we discussed how important it was to have a clear vision, and later in this blog salon, we will be talking in-depth about the specific documents you need to prepare to make your redesign a success (many of these will be crucial in selecting and working with the right developer).
Web Host – A web host is a company that provides you with a server on which to “host” your website and connect it to the internet. In very basic terms, the server where your website lives is like your computer where you keep your files, and a website is just made up of a bunch of files that communicate with each other in specific ways to do specific things.
If you are happy with where your website is currently hosted, you may not need to change this. Your web developer may also provide this service, or may suggest a separate service based on the needs of your new website. The most important thing to look for in a web host is a company that monitors your site 24/7 (in case it crashes in the middle of the night), that responds quickly once contacted (or, even better, contacts you if they notice a problem), and that can provide the correct type of system setup needed for your new website.
There are many options when selecting your web hosting service, including things like shared or dedicated hosting (does your website live on its own server, or does it share the space with other websites?), the operating system (Linux, Windows, etc.), and the softwares (for databases, scripting, etc.) installed on the server. Your web development company should be able to help answer specific questions about hosting needs based on how they plan to build your website.
Miscellaneous Vendors - Based on your internal structure and needs, your organization may decide that you need additional resources to make your website project a success. Sometimes you’ll want to work with a marketing or branding expert to use this redesign as a way to improve your organization’s messaging.
Or maybe you don’t have a clear staff member that fits in the project manager role, so you need to hire an external vendor to take on this responsibility (this is not ideal, but certainly an option).
And, quite possibly, your organization may need to invest in training resources for staff to allow basic website updates and edits to be made in-house (and save your vendor budget for more advanced upgrades) – this may be training on graphics software, basic HTML, or your specific Content Management System. Some of our favorites are Codecademy, Lynda, Treehouse Blog, and, of course, YouTube.
There are many people who can help your organization make your redesign a success. But we all know budgets are limited. Take your time to do as much preparation and research work as you can in-house, and be honest with your vendors about your willingness to take on additional work (and deliver it on time!) to keep costs down.